CLARE WINSTEN nee BIRNBERG 1894-1989 English School
Oil on canvas, signed with monogram
40” X 57”
PROVENANCE; EXHIBITED BEN URI GALLERY, LONDON JEWISH MUSEUM OF ART ‘Whitechapel at War: Isaac Rosenberg and his Circle’ (2008)
Clare Birnberg, later Winsten, was an artist and sculptress who studied at the Slade School from 1910 to 1912 and was a contemporary there of Isaac Rosenberg and David Bomberg. She modeled for both of them and is the “Girl in a Red Dress” by the former.
She was one of the first exhibitors at the exhibition held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery which opened on 8th May 1914 titled “Twentieth Century Art: A Review of Modern Movements” which intended to show “the progress of art since the absorption of …impressionist teaching”.
This exhibition brought together a group of avant-garde artists and students, mainly from the Slade, who also had strong roots in London’s East End. There were also a few invited overseas artists whose work fitted the set criteria and Modigliani, Pascin, Nadelman and Kisling and Lucien Pissaro were also exhibiting. Within this show there was included a specific “Jewish Section”. This was very significant at the time because it showed the emergence of an influential group of artists whose work impacted on British Modernism and this exhibition was a clear attempt to acknowledge this. Apart from the iconoclastic artist Wyndham Lewis, two of the principal exhibitors were the young Jewish artist David Bomberg and the sculptor Jacob Epstein who was a selector of the subject matter. Clara Birnberg was the only woman artist represented.
She had met the writer Samuel Weinstein who was a member of the Whitechapel Boys which was a group of Jewish writers and artists rooted in that area and were heavily involved with the Whitechapel 1914 exhibition. Mark Gertler and David Bomberg were both members and they in turn introduced their students and the group and the exhibition became important for developing patronage for artists, not only among the Jewish community.
Clara Birnberg married Weinstein and they renounced Judaism becoming Quaker Humanists anglicising their names to Winsten. They were neighbours of George Bernard Shaw and Clare illustrated some of his works including “Bouyant Billions”. She also did his portrait and made a bronze sculpture of him in 1946 which was donated by the playwright’s family to the Shaw Theatre but upon its closure, was given to the Mayor of Camden where it sits in his Parlour to this day.
She was a sculptor (there is a fine example in the Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel) artist, illustrator and portraitist. Among many famous people that she drew or painted were George Bernard Shaw, Dmitri Shostakovich, Benjamin Britten and Mahatma Gandhi. The British Museum has examples of her work.
Sarah Mac Dougall dates this work to 1910-1912 when Birnberg was still a student at the Slade and is her earliest known painting in oils. She writes: ‘Conceptually, compositionally, and technically, “Dawn” may be compared to the Slade summer competition entries to three other students in 1912: Bomberg’s “Island of Joy”, Rosenberg’s “Hark, Hark, the Lark” and William Robert’s “ David choosing the three Day’s Pestilence” all of which featured figures in similar attitudes, though the context – waking, stretching or giving thanks – varies’. In Winsten’s unpublished auto-biography, she mentions that the painting was admired in her studio in 1919 or early 1920 but not before then.
We are grateful to Sarah MacDougall and Jonathan Harrison for their information regarding this painting.
Bibliography: Jewish Quarterly Autumn 2004: The Whitechapel Boys – Rachel Dickinson and Sarah MacDougall Artists in Britain since 1945 – David Buckman
Literature: Whitechapel at War: Isaac Rosenberg and his Circle - RachelDickinson and Sarah MacDougall pages 99 - 114